| Note from the curators |
When was the first moment that you became aware of your blackness? Did you accept it? Survey it? Or have you torn it apart and placed the stripes aside for another day's safe keeping?
We present these events of blackness to give new life and context to the word, views and emotions behind it. Whether you ascribe the assignment of Black, or refute its notions of breathing into you any life whatsoever, we come to you and ask: what is blackness?
Iman Person + Rachelle Knowles
Being a Southern California native from San Diego had a way of keeping me sheltered around Blackness and the glaring contrast of prejudice on the topic of race. San Diego has always been a melting pot of diversity due to the heavy military influence and its placement on the western region of the U.S. This effected change, liberalism and the idea of "golden opportunity" for those who wanted, and desperately needed, a better quality of life or a more progressive, alternative lifestyle from all over the world. Yet the city is very conservative, having only diversified around Mexican, Caucasian, and Asian heritages. This made it quite in-your-face when you recognized a person who didn't have the outward characteristics of a typical retired, military, beach bum, college student, surfer, skateboarding "San Diegan”.
My hometown’s African-American/African demographic is just about 6%, meaning there is no black community truly. Although Blacks have, and do to this day, played a definite role in the cultural expansion of San Diego. Most African-Americans I grew up with had an interracial background mostly from military influence, but they did not outwardly identify with the labels Black or African-American. With some, it was as if there were some underlying negativity associated with Black that made you seem "ugly" in a city that was very surface oriented. Some who were not interracial, including East Africans, lived mostly in the area of southeast San Diego. This was considered to be the less wealthy part of town with heavy gang influence in an overall wealthy city. Comparatively, this area is still more well- to- do than other impoverished towns around the world. I had somewhat of an interaction with this side of town, having moved all over; but I grew up mainly South of the city closer to bordering Mexico.
I never truly knew the ancestry of my own immediate family, although our physical features were not necessarily what would be associated with a stereotypical Black person. Our Blackness was always a very vague topic and was not spoken of in the household. My parents, who were not California natives, didn't center my life around being black, nor did they grow up experiencing the harsh realities of segregation. They did impart their personal historical knowledge of Africa, African-American pioneers, empires, and experiences to me. They spoke on what it meant to be/grow up/be perceived as black and how they believed it would impact me. I was aware of deep underlying thoughts of "Yes, maybe I do look different, and I am being dealt with in a not so equal manner to my peers." Even though the influences around my appearance and myself were not harshly prejudiced, I still felt it. Still, I didn't have a conscious, fixed definition of what it was and how to gauge my identity in relation to Blackness.
Around the age of 4, I would fly every summer and visit my father who at the time lived in Washington D.C.- known as "Chocolate City" because of its predominantly African and African-American demographic. It was a huge culture shock to interact with larger groups of people whose features mirrored mine and showed what blackness looks like to many in the U.S and across the world. Even then I could not assume that a person was black; there were many people who came from different areas of the world, from further distances than California, with darker complexions, without English as a first language, and who were not American.
This peaked my curiosity and the need to understand how this experience of Blackness made me feel in relation to my own identity and self-expression. It was my first time witnessing a great cultural divide with tensions among Africans and blacks. This was confusing for me at first because I believed we were from similar backgrounds. I was completely triggered for the rest of my life, and this led to a deep self-reflection once I had become aware of these topics in relation to politics, identity, prejudices vs. acceptance, humanity, and the challenges between African-Americans and African communities. This allowed me to inspect how I chose to engage with the world externally/internally and with others.
I returned to San Diego after every visit to D.C. with a wider perspective on Blackness. This allowed for a more open mind in how I viewed people, the world, and humanity. Many facets of my life were affected including how I dealt with personal identity, my beliefs and thoughts around the idea of Blackness, including my relation to religion. I came from a Christian/non-denominational faith home, feeling obligated, forced to take part. Other affected parts of my life include being lesbian, a woman, and person of color who had a deep love for many different art forms that were not the norm to Mexican, Asian, and Caucasian audiences. Currently, I’m still experiencing this as I grow into a progressive visual artist who is spiritually/metaphysically versed and and identifies as transgender/non-binary. I had nothing to truly identify with because even my African-American peers constantly resisted me in every grouping I tried to associate with. I felt myself to be so multifaceted that I embodied everything and nothing to society in a world that was so fixated on centering their livelihood on labeling. I came to accept early on that blackness in relation to my appearance, beliefs, identity and other people's perspectives of blackness was not the fabric of my authentic self or who I deeply am.
This applied to my view of all people no matter what part of the world they came from or how their physical features differed or were similar to mine. Blackness has become a state of mind and a choice, as opposed to a way of life for me. My nature is of nature and its transitioning force. I still give honor to my ancestors and acknowledge, with respect, others who identify with Blackness on the terms they choose. I have a deep knowing and understanding that my energetic essence in truth does not operate in the restrictions of definitions, human constructs, crippling ideologies, and narrow states of mind but that I flow and exist as something inherently universal and transparent no matter how I am perceived. That I am a sovereign being who was given the will and free thought to shift what I believe, identify with, and perceive in relation to how I choose to lead my life and relate to the world. I remain in alignment and connected with universal truths that are in infinite expansion. There is honesty and bravery in this.
Although the journey has not been easy, it has been for the betterment of my well-being in creating myself as something that is far more reaching than the idea of Black. I still reach and hold space for people on a deeper and broader level that is intimately felt beyond the construct of race. I feel that my ancestors and leaders before me, no matter what heritage, would have wanted for Self and humanity to transcend these states of mind to move towards living a liberated, unified, sustainable, balanced life for all creatures, not just our own on Earth but also, the universe.